Follow the Money: Financial Reasons for Outrageous Plot Twists

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:29:51 PM ET
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Viewers take TV and movie magic for granted, but when it comes to financing our favorite television and movie productions, things can get very complicated very quickly. Stars demand high salaries, and it’s expensive to create an entire fantasy world that only exists on screen. Having said that, it shouldn’t be surprising that some of the most shocking decisions in entertainment have been driven by money. 

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If money was no object, some of our favorite movies and TV shows would have more characters and a lot more really cool scenes filmed in incredible locations. In the history of entertainment, some financial decisions have improved productions, but others — not so much. 

Bizarre Driving Decisions for Hulk

Producers for the Lou Ferrigno version of The Incredible Hulk were downright cheap. For inexplicable reasons, the TV series frequently included car chases. Instead of filming the chases themselves, producers made the financially driven decision to use footage from a Steven Spielberg TV movie named Duel.

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Unfortunately, this made for some pretty weird deviations from the plot. Cars had the wrong number of passengers, and drivers didn’t look like the characters that were supposed to be in the car. Even in the ‘70s, viewers noticed the glaring discrepancies. (If you didn’t, look again for fun.)

Mighty Morphin — Super Sentai?

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is an American cult classic. Plenty of '90s kids couldn’t get enough of the live-action, teenage superheroes, but those same '90s kids would probably be shocked to learn they weren’t the first to watch the Power Rangers.

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The American version of the Power Rangers franchise was heavily based on Super Sentai, an older Japanese show. Episodes were carefully written so action scenes pulled from Super Sentai would make sense in the story. In fact, most of the fight scenes are edited versions of Super Sentai. Apparently, you can think of the Power Rangers as Mighty Morphin copycats.

Superman on Repeat

Television may be a big industry today, but back in the '50s, it was still a new-fangled idea that many people believed would eventually fail. That's why budgets for TV shows were super low. The Adventures of Superman was a hit, but it was a very bold undertaking for a production company on a shoestring budget.

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George Reeves, the iconic actor who played Superman, only filmed flying scenes once. Those same scenes were used in the show until it finally went off the air. Sometimes, the same short flying scene was played on repeat if Superman needed to fly longer. Think anyone noticed?

Groundbreaking Transporters

If it wasn't for a shortage of money, we wouldn't have the glorious command to "Beam me up" as an iconic part of sci-fi movie history. When it comes to special effects, Star Trek has always been cutting edge. The set for the Enterprise starship was incredibly detailed and portrayed a believable, futuristic world.

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Early innovation came with one big problem, however. When filming started, producers quickly realized it would be too expensive to constantly film the Enterprise landing or taking off from planets. Instead, the writers invented transporters, and the super cool technology became one of the most well-known aspects of the show.

Recycling the Pilot

If at first, you don't succeed, try, try again. The episode that was supposed to be the pilot for Xena: Warrior Princess didn’t air publicly as the first episode of the show. It was ultimately scrapped for a better idea.

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Several episodes later, however, once the show had established quite a following, producers revisited that original pilot. The episode had already been filmed, and it was close to the hearts of the writers. Faced with a tight budget, the producers aired the never-before-seen pilot as a regular episode instead of filming a new one.

Battle That Ended in a Single Punch

Game of Thrones is all about dramatic battles, but one of the most important battles in the book series of the same name was seriously downplayed on screen. The Battle of the Green Fork, where the Starks and the Lannisters have an all-out war, is a major plot point in the novel series.

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On screen, the "battle" consisted of a quick scene where Peter Dinklage's Tyrion gets quickly and unceremoniously knocked out. Why did producers brush past one of the biggest battles in the series? At the time, the show’s budget simply didn’t allow for production of an extended battle with hundreds of extras.

Not a “Bad” Decision to Film in New Mexico

Breaking Bad wasn't always supposed to be set in the New Mexican desert. Originally, the show was supposed to be shot in Riverside, California, much closer to all the entertainment industry conveniences in L.A. and Hollywood. However, the state of New Mexico offered a 25% tax incentive for any production that filmed there.

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That’s the only reason that Breaking Bad takes place in New Mexico, but it ended up being a great plot point for the show. The desert landscape makes everything so much more dramatic, and it fits seamlessly into the story.

One “Friday Night Light” Stopped Shining

For two full seasons, Santiago Herrera was one of the football players on Friday Night Lights. After being released from a juvenile detention center, Santiago moves in with Buddy Garrity, a former high school football star and a huge supporter of the Dillon Panthers.

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Does Santiago return to crime, or does he excel in football? We will never know because he disappeared in season three. When the season was being written, writers in Hollywood were preparing to go on strike. Producers rushed the writing for that season, and Santiago just got left out.

A Strange Final Season and Stranger Finale

In the last season of Saved by the Bell, Jessie and Kelly disappeared, and a new girl named Tori popped up from out of nowhere. Even stranger, in the final episode, Jessie and Kelly came back for graduation, and Tori, who had become a regular, was mysteriously missing.

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After the show was supposedly slated to end, the network ordered another season. The actresses who played Jessie and Kelly didn’t agree with the amounts offered on their new contracts, so they declined, and Tori was introduced to fill the void. The finale episode was the ending that was originally filmed, so the original characters are there.

What's with That Ending?

Up until the last five minutes of the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is set in medieval times. The comedy was originally supposed to end with a big battle, but there wasn’t enough money in the film's budget to pull off the scene.

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Instead, the fourth wall was broken when 21st-century cops ran onto the set and arrested all of actors for the murder of a historian who was killed off earlier in the movie. After the arrests take place, the movie ends abruptly. Strangely, this forced financial decision only made the comedy even funnier.

Color Movie with Black and White Scenes

If…. is a controversial movie directed by Lindsay Anderson that debuted in 1968. In fact, the content was so controversial the movie received an X rating, a British rating that only allowed adults to see it. The seedy depiction of British boarding school life is like Tom Brown's School Days on steroids.

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Although it was filmed in color, the movie makes frequent use of black and white stock videos for filler scenes. There are multiple explanations for this strange style choice — one being that the film ran out of money to film new scenes.

Two Out of Three

The Lord of the Rings was first tackled as an animated film back in the 1970s, but there were some problems. The director, Ralph Bakshi, decided to use a special technique to both film and animate his adaptation of the classic novel series.

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He filmed human actors acting out the scenes in the movie, and then he traced and painted the film cells from those recordings to make his animations. After squeezing two books into the second-longest animated movie ever made, Bakshi ran out of money to make the third book into a second movie.

The Rocky Road to Rocky

Sylvester Stallone may have written Rocky, but United Artists’ executives wanted a famous actor to play the titular role. Because Stallone insisted on starring as Rocky, the film company only gave him half of the agreed-upon budget for the movie.

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Stallone was a Hollywood nobody at the time, so the film lost out on big-name directors who were swarming around the project when they thought a star would play Rocky. (The low-key director won the Oscar for Best Director, by the way.) Ultimately, Rocky and all its sequels did extremely well, but who knows how much better the film could have been if it had been given the budget it deserved?

A Super Mario Meltdown

Super Mario Brothers put Nintendo on the map. It was one of the world's first best-selling video game franchises, so a Mario movie should have been very successful, right? Reality proved that no matter how famous characters may be, every film has a budget that could kill it.

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The directors of the Super Mario Brothers movie went so far over budget that they were abruptly fired before any usable film was shot. The remaining budget was used to piece together a lackluster movie, without quality graphics for all the biggest scenes. That’s an unthinkable crime for a video game franchise — Game Over!

Cheap Costumes Make the Most Money

The Horror of Party Beach is a horror musical. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Let's just say it received very little critical acclaim. During filming, there was a multiple motorcycle pile up on set, and the aftermath of that accident consumed much of the film's budget.

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A talented costume designer was hired to design all the monsters for the movie. After the accident, they could only afford to have the designer create one monster. The rest were made by inexperienced crew members, but, strangely, those cheaper costumes are the ones that convinced movie studio executives to buy the film.

Tonto Lost a Few Friends

The Lone Ranger is a tale that has been tackled many times in movies and television series. When Disney set out to make the latest Lone Ranger movie with Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, it was predicted to be the start of the next big movie series. It turned out to be an extremely expensive flop.

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Small elements of the production were so expensive that entire characters were written out of the script at the last minute. Tonto was supposed to interact with demons and werewolves, but those fantasy characters proved to be too costly to design.

Deadpool Was Supposed to Have More Superheroes

Deadpool may be considered a great movie — at least from a fan perspective — but this big-budget production still dealt with money problems. Wolverine and other X-Men were originally supposed to be featured in the movie, but there wasn’t enough money to pay for that many blockbuster stars.

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Some reports indicate the movie was supposed to end with an epic gunfight, but Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool forgot his gun and only brought his gun bag. The comedic element of the scene fit well with the movie, but it’s rumored the scene was more of a financial decision than anything else.

Cleopatra Got Cut Short

The 1960’s version of Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton set records for being the most expensive movie made at that time. The film was shot in Egypt, London and Rome. Nearly 80 different sets and more than 25,000 costumes were handcrafted for the production.

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Despite being willing to spend so much time and money on a single movie, studio executives put their foot down eventually. The final scene was supposed to feature a big battle, but that would have required another set, more props and more extras. The entire scene was scrapped due to cost overages.

Alderaan Gets Blown Up

In Star Wars, Princess Leia is supposed to be in jail on her home planet of Alderaan. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were supposed to travel to Alderaan to free her from prison. In the version of the movie that audiences saw, the entire planet of Alderaan gets blown up by the Death Star.

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George Lucas has since revealed that the budget for this movie was much lower than subsequent Star Wars productions. Alderaan got wiped out instead because it would have cost too much to build the landscape of the planet and prison scenes. It was a financial decision that played beautifully into the drama of the movie.

No Extras in Mad Max

Mad Max, and all of its video game and movie spinoffs, is known for taking place in a barren, post-apocalyptic world. This ongoing decision started back in the late '70s because the original Mad Max movie had such a small budget.

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In a post-apocalyptic setting, it seems normal that you don’t see a lot of people. It saved the production company a ton of money when they didn’t have to hire a lot of extras. Because the lonely, desolate setting was established from the beginning, all the future Mad Max movies have been filmed without many people beyond the main characters taking up screen time.

Attack of the Killer Product Placement

George Clooney wasn't always in blockbuster pics. He starred in Return of the Killer Tomatoes, for example. The goofy movie featured a joke scene that may have actually had a little truth to it. In the middle of the scene, the director yells cut and says the movie has to stop because the budget has been exceeded.

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George Clooney saves the day by suggesting they can earn extra money with a little product placement. In subsequent scenes, he prominently features plenty of products with logos. It's cute — and it may have been necessary for the real production as well.

A One Take Movie

El Mariachi is a critically acclaimed early '90s action movie, but the film does have some awkward moments. After all, the entire movie had a $9,000 budget. To stay within the tight limit, director Robert Rodriguez shot the entire movie in one take per scene.

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If lines were messed up, he edited around them. If someone wasn't in the right place in the first shot, that person remained out of place in the movie. Aside from the main characters, many of the extras and supporting roles in the movie were filled by Rodriguez's friends.

Final Frontier Leaves Much to the Imagination

William Shatner is known for greatness in the Star Trek franchise, but even he admitted that Star Trek: The Final Frontier wasn’t his best work. With its 1989 release, the movie was set to have some of the best special effects in franchise history.

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When funding didn’t come through as Shatner expected, however, he was forced to cut corners. He says that some of the best scenes in the movie had to be cut to save money and that the special effects for the movie were abysmal compared to what they could have been. Audiences tend to agree.

Othello Ends in the Bath

Othello was a passion project for Orson Welles. With zero funding, he worked as an actor to pay for the production of the movie. It was even rumored that he stole some of the costumes from the movies he worked on as an actor to clothe the actors in his own movie.

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In fact, the cost of costumes was such an issue that Welles had the final scene filmed in a Turkish bath so the characters wouldn’t need costumes. Instead, they all wore towels, which was far less expensive than costumes for a period movie.

Kill Bill 2 Could Have Been Even Longer

Sources who worked on Kill Bill 2 say that the movie was supposed to have a much more action-packed ending. Bill and The Bride were supposed to have a sword fight on the beach, but the Quentin Tarantino film had already had too many expensive fighting sequences.

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Higher-ups told Tarantino he had to cut the scene. In addition to being too expensive, they were also worried that the dramatic ending would make the movie drag on too long. Instead, the movie ends with Bill having a calm conversation about how she might fight The Bride.

Screech's Girlfriend Went to Beverly Hills

Remember when Screech had a girlfriend on Saved by the Bell? She was a nerdy girl named Violet Ann Bickerstaff who was played by Tori Spelling. When Violet was first introduced to Bayside High, Spelling was an up and coming actress.

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When she got an offer for Beverly Hills 90210, Screech's girlfriend disappeared without a trace. As Spelling's career exploded, she became way more expensive than Violet Ann Bickerstaff, a sporadic supporting character, was worth to the show. After appearing in a few episodes here and there, Violet was never seen or spoken of again. So much for true love.

No Cliffhanger for Hannibal

The NBC TV series Hannibal was very popular with audiences. Writers worked hard to create an enthralling story that could continue for many seasons. Unfortunately, just before filming the final episode in season three, they learned that it would be the last of the series.

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The finale needed to give some kind of closure to the twisted story, so the plot had to take a sudden major turn because the network had canceled the show. The end result? The main characters, Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, abruptly fall to their deaths off the side of a cliff. It certainly wasn’t the kind of cliffhanger viewers expected.

Lost in a Cage

Lost is a polarizing show, but almost everyone can agree that there were definitely moments when the plot seemed to stall. For example, there was an arc when all the characters on the island were trapped in cages for several back-to-back episodes.

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It was the kind of interesting conundrum that protagonists usually wiggle themselves out of in one or two episodes. Damon Lindelof, the executive producer, admitted in a USA Today Q&A session that the characters were caged for so long because there was no money left in the show's budget to switch locations.

Star Trek Plays a Clip Compilation

The season finale of any show is usually the most exciting episode, and no special effects are spared. Because Star Trek was a renowned sci-fi franchise, fans had high expectations for the season two finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but financial concerns outweighed creativity during filming.

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Instead of pulling out all the stops, the finale was basically a season recap. Commander Riker got sick, and he had to explore his memories — literal clips from previous episodes — to be cured. This detour only happened because earlier episodes went over budget.

The Dead Don't Walk Very Far

Although the original series is over, The Walking Dead and all its spinoffs continue to be smash hits. In season two of the thriller, viewers may have noticed that things got a little stagnant. The storyline was still moving ahead at full speed, but the characters didn't seem to be going anywhere — literally.

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Despite big plans, the whole season was filmed on a single farm in Georgia. Why? Mad Men was much more popular at the time, and AMC spent so much money on that show that The Walking Dead suffered major budget cuts.